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Unpredictable Calculations

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Hoss Haley: Drawing Machine
2/23, 4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. Lecture
5:30 p.m. – 7 p.m. Opening Reception
Exhibit runs through March 30
Free; UNCW Cultural Arts Building

PRODUCT OF PI: Machine Drawing, enamel paint on steel, 48 x 48 x 2 inches. Photo courtesy of Hoss Haley.

Machines run our lives. They manufacture and operate our cars, computers, furniture, clothes, plates, cell phones, electronics—practically everything. Having made our lives much easier, there is still mystery behind the machine and its secret, methodical existence. It has an unstoppable rhythmic monotony, which is fascinating.

The undeniable allure of machinery is something Asheville artist Hoss Haley reinterprets and translates into an aesthetic context. A conceptual sculptor and painter, Haley grew up on a farm in rural Kansas surrounded by farming equipment, which ignited a spark of interest.

“I had access to all sorts of tools but mostly metal-working tools,” he states. “I became enamored with working with metal and got very lucky [when] I found a material that spoke to me when I was so young.”

His work exemplifies a lifelong fascination with structure of the machine. They have become almost an extension of the self, considering the integral part they play in making our daily lives move and progress.

After spending several years as an apprentice to blacksmiths in Texas and New Mexico, he began to focus on creating metal sculptures. He travelled to Penland School of Crafts in Asheville where he took classes and eventually obtained a three-year residency. That was 10 years ago and Haley, falling in love with NC’s beautiful mountains, still resides there today.

Known for creating monumental, industrially influenced works, Haley has recently turned his efforts to the creation of a drawing machine. “Hoss Haley’s Drawing Machine [is] a large metal table with a robotic arm-like apparatus that generates drawings,” Courtney Johnson, assistant professor of art and art history at UNCW, says. Johnson also directs the art gallery in UNCW’s Cultural Arts Building, where Haley’s works will show through March.

“The Drawing Machine is a carefully designed machine controlled by the numerical sequence of Pi.,” Johnson explains. “There is a motor that is constantly in rotation moving a stylus around on a painted steel panel. The stylus scratches through the paint, exposing the steel below.”
The motors, all five of them, are called “actuators,” according to Haley. What follows is an algorithm which takes his art to a very different stimulus of engagement. Based on the Pi series, the actuators are assigned two digits each (1 and 2, 3 and 6, 4 and 7, 5 and 8, 9 and 0), with a variance of number sequences generated in five-minute increments.

“As each number comes up, the corresponding actuator is set into motion,” Johnson states. “Because Pi is an infinite number, the path of the machine is never the same,” Johnson states.

Haley says there has always been a mechanical aspect to his work. Having personally constructed the machines which assist him in his artistic creations, it’s a creative process people usually don’t see. Yet, it’s not easy to perpetrate. Haley says he often sits and stares at the machine, mentally willing it to etch in this or that corner, but it never does.

“For years I had this idea of a drawing machine,” he says. “I made several attempts but they always produced one-liner type drawings that were very predictable.”

While he often concentrates on the background—which is more craft-based than fine art-based—he feels it functions almost as hindrance. “Personally, I find that having a background as a craft artist is a bit of a burden because I know too well how to make things,” Haley says.
“Craftsmen pride themselves on having complete control over their material, and I wanted to create something I could perfectly construct.”
Haley’s work is predictable in the sense that it will always function within a provided area, but its pattern is erratic and free to do whatever it wills. His desire to create machinery stems from a career creating public art commissions.

“Large scale works all have to be planned very carefully and in some cases the work takes months to come to fruition,” he says. “As an artist, you have to have complete control of these large-scale works and be able to predict what’s going to happen. Creating something like this [the Drawing Machine] is the complete antithesis of control, and that is refreshing.”

There is an obvious geometric element to the Drawing Machine, but what separates the works from each other is their individuality. Haley’s art work is not necessarily focused on the final product but actually the machine itself. He has created and given it a mind of its own to generate work that is different and unique each time. He has, in essence, created the art work, with the machine functioning as a robotic arm and an extension of the artist himself.

The Drawing Machine will be an integral part of Haley’s exhibit at UNCW in the gallery of the Cultural Arts Building. The exhibit will consist of the running machine, as well as eight panels of completed drawings. There will be an opening reception on Thursday, February 23rd from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., and the work will be on display until March 30th, Monday through Friday, noon to 4 p.m. Before the opening, Haley will give a lecture in room 2033 from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. about his process, how a machine works, why it works like it does and what led him to his current body of art. Both the lecture and exhibition are free and open to the public.

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